Published on April 8th, 2016 | by Dave Scaddan0
The Feedback Society’s Week in Music
Some albums we’ve been discussing over drinks this week at The Feedback Society, like Slow, Death Grips, The Field, Black Mountain, and legendary King Curtis.
Slow – Against The Glass
Like all music fans that hit their teens in the 80s, I like to YouTube my way through rock video nostalgia once in a while. When I was 14, something we used to call a radio was replaced by a channel called MTV and, in Canada, the far superior MuchMusic. Much like rock radio listeners, the rock video audience had to sit through whatever the broadcaster chose to play, and we did it happily, watching pop stars in mostly inept video productions, backed by music that was usually pretty good. And once in a while, it was great. Discovering a song while watching its video for the first time was the next best thing to hearing a band play a new song live. We got to take it all in — even when it was a Milli Vanillian sham: we got the song, the look, the style, and each member of the band in some kind of image-appropriate pose or dance.
Once in a while in 1986, a Vancouver band called Slow would smear the screen for three minutes with a terribly produced video for a piercingly catchy song called Have Not Been the Same. I probably only heard this song while seeing the terrible video, and I probably only saw the video two or three times, but that song stuck in my mind for thirty years until I recently went back for it on YouTube, and it actually held up like my memory told me it would.
Have Not Been the Same is — still — a three-minute triumph of rock/pop/punk perfection. With a guitar hook that’s built to last, sexy female backup vocals, a rollicking speed-punk chorus and a maniacally slurred lead vocal, Have Not Been the Same is, for me, on the same level as Smells Like Teen Spirit or God Save the Queen in terms of its ability to blur genre lines and still be instantly appealing. It’s the kind of song that can be a band’s flagship single, but Slow, it seems, never got to sail that ship as far as they probably deserved.
There’s some ridiculous theory out there that this band “started grunge”, which, whatever, but Against the Glass (which is basically an out-of-print relic) is the kind of record that should benefit from being pulled out of almost total obscurity by digital access. I can’t be the only one who remembers seeing this video and wondering what the hell to make of it while wondering if I’d ever hear that perfect single again.
Editor’s Note: Here’s the video, for shits and giggles:
Death Grips – Interview
(Not Actual Cover)
It’s hard to know what to expect from Death Grips, a band that’s not even supposed to exist. It wasn’t so long ago that they were announcing their own dissolution, and now they’re apparently back with an appropriately confusing in between albums release. Interview doesn’t sound much like anything in their catalogue; it’s devoid of vocals and live drumming, so right there two of the group’s main assets are being taken off the table. These guys play so many games with their public image that I wouldn’t put it past them to release an entire album as a kind of gag, or maybe they’re just trying to smash people’s expectations. Nevertheless, Interview comes off as a pretty tame-though-aggressive 22 minutes, presenting drilling drum machine warping that’s been done more skillfully by Aphex Twin or Venetian Snares.
The Field – The Follower
This seems like an appropriately titled record, as it follows Axel Willner’s most ambitious and disappointing release. Sometimes musicians can be heard reaching for something that they’re not quite grasping, so that all we seem to hear is the effort, not the result, spoiling the almost magical quality that allows us to immerse ourselves in music. This was my problem with much of Cupid’s Head — I felt like I could hear Willner trying, whereas with his first two records, the transcendent ease with which he seemed to create his hypnotic soundscapes was a large part of the charm. The Follower is back on pace – it presents layered loops of sound that are quite simple in their essence, but meticulous in their presentation. Listening to The Field still requires patience and concentration at first, but given time, it can become a backdrop for almost any activity because of its ability to simultaneously fade into the woodwork and transfix the listener’s focus.
Black Mountain – IV
In anticipation of a chance to see this band live in May, I’ve been listening to this one plenty of late. Black Mountain have a pretty steady legacy of paying tribute to the altar of prog-rock and psych-rock, and for me, this, their fourth record (duh) is where the sound stops being tribute and starts being mastery. The album starts out feeling like the group has fallen down a Floyd hole in the studio (and, I mean, check out that Storm Thorgerson-ish cover art) then they gradually float out of it on waves of Fleetwood and Wakeman. The heavily emotive synth parts should make for a very weighty live show, but that’s still several weeks away . . .
King Curtis – Live at Fillmore West
I’ve been putting this guy’s records on quite often this Spring, and in case you’ve never sat in awe of the soul saxophone crown worn by King Curtis, you probably should. Most of the King Curtis catalogue sees popular hit songs from many genres (R&B, soul, rock, country, Broadway and pop) being played to perfection by an air-tight studio band while Curtis takes the vocal (or main) melody on a smooth ride through his tenor sax and absolutely transforms and transcends the number every time. And I mean every single time. It might be Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, it might be Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, it might even be Michelle by The Beatles. Even when Curtis dips into the cheese fondue pot for something like Harper Valley PTA, he gives it class.
Live at Fillmore West was recorded in San Francisco in March of 1971 with one of the finest live bands ever assembled, just weeks before King Curtis was fatally stabbed outside his own apartment. It stands in time as an absolutely perfect record: perfect live recording, perfect set list, perfect lineup, perfect performance. Any flaws that can be found in Live at Fillmore West only serve to add character to an already ideal moment in music history. In its grooves, you will hear Stax legends The Memphis Horns, organ player Billy Preston (who played keys for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones), master session player Jerry Jemmott on bass, and my favourite drummer of all time, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, whose backbeat precision is second-to-none in support of this all-star lineup. These guys clearly enjoyed playing together, and you can hear it as they blow their way though tunes like My Sweet Lord, Them Changes, Whole Lotta Love, Whiter Shade of Pale, plus Curtis’ own Texas-grown classics Soul Serenade and Memphis Soul Stew. Whew!